Holly Cardew — Pixc
This week I had the opportunity to speak with the infinitely impressive Holly Cardew, CEO and Founder of Pixc. Pixc is a platform which allows retailers and store owners across the world access to affordable high quality imagery to successfully sell their products through e-commerce and online stores. In 2016, Holly was listed as a Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia emerging entrepreneur to watch in the eCommerce and retail space. She has spent the past two years growing the business in San Francisco and has recently returned to Australia to take part in Advance Queensland’s Hot DesQ program. Alongside running a successful technology company, Holly is also a mentor at one of Australia’s best accelerator programs, Startmate.
How did you develop the idea for Pixc and what drew you to this problem?
I was building online stores for retailers and realised that everyone needed products edited and on a white background. They all had smartphones, so I thought why can’t they just take a photo, upload it, and it automatically comes back with a white background.
Because I couldn’t build algorithms, I created a landing page with a PayPal button (a bit like what you did), and within the 3rd week, a retailer in Queensland submitted 800 photos. I knew this was a bigger problem.
To get it done, I hired a lot of designers, and managed it manually through Dropbox and a spreadsheet.
Since building Pixc, we have come up with a ton of other ideas and features that we can provide our customers.
How did you find your first few hires for the company?
Upwork (called Odesk at the time)! I was living in regional NSW so there was no other way to hire, other than online. When I discovered Upwork, it changed everything for me.
Videos here if you would like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0exexV29Tpc
What are some of your strengths that really helped you build the company?
It would have to be outsourcing/hiring online. It seems simple but I have now hired over 200 people online and have virtual assistants helping me all the time with everything — including my personal travel bookings. By hiring cost-effective assistants around the world, not only could I get more done, but I could also get work done 24–7…while I slept.
It has also helped that I can understand technology and what is needed from our engineers. I may not have an engineering background, but I would say that I have an engineering mind set.
What was the catalyst that made you take the plunge and start Pixc? What would you be doing if you hadn’t started it?
I don’t think that I ever intentionally start a startup. However at the time I was building an online marketplace and the biggest challenge for the e-retailers was getting good product photography online. So, I put up a landing page, and in our third week, a store in QLD submitted 800 photos.
If I hadn’t started Pixc, I think I would be either selling online myself or have a digital agency, as I was building stores.
How did you get your initial funding to get Pixc off the ground?
I used some of my own money, charged customers from day 1, and then was accepted into muruD (Telstra’s accelerator program).
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
A network of founder friends. When I started, I really didn’t know anything about “startups”. I was building a service for businesses that needed it. Over time, I built a group of core network of other CEOs/Founders who are at a similar stage or just ahead of me. It makes it really easy to ask them what they would do in a similar situation.
What has been the most surprising part of running your own company? What were you not expecting?
How long everything really takes! There is no overnight success so you need to really love what you do and be passionate about the problem you are solving, and more importantly, the customer you are serving. They will be with you for a lot of the journey.
What I wasn’t expecting was how much I secretly love the stressful, crazy situations. I actually get a thrill from how difficult it can be. Yes — sounds crazy! I think you have to be crazy to be running a startup.
The other thing that I wasn’t expecting is how much you change and pivot and come up with new ideas during the process. So, if you are scared about sharing your idea because someone will steal it, or someone says “oh there is a company that already does that” — just keep going! Trust me, you will end up completely different, serving a different segment of the customer. It’s like someone saying to Elon Musk said, “oh we are not going to build another car because there is already Holden and Ford etc.”
Who have been your greatest mentors in this journey and what are the key things you’ve learnt from them?
Carl Hartmann, CEO of Temando. He has raised over $60m, and has a team of 150+. He has taught me everything from hiring, managing, partnerships and product.
From Silicon Valley (not any one particular mentor), I have learnt that:
1. You need to think big and if you think you are already thinking big, think bigger, as if anything is possible.
2. Go global from day one — if you have a software company, really you don’t have any reason not to sell to other countries. This validates your product even more.
3. Hire slow, fire fast. I would also say, don’t compromise on amazing team members, this will cost you more later.
4. Always ask everyone you meet with, what you can help with, even if you think that you can’t. This should be your mentality in every meeting. It’s amazing the connections that come back around when you adopt this thinking.